Do you or your people struggle with your role and placement in church? Do your people feel disconnected or lost in church? Do they feel like they are unimportant or not noticed or appreciated? Do they feel they are not getting fed spiritually or challenged to grow? Do they feel they have few opportunities to exercise their gifts and call? Do you feel called to plant a church? Then, this resource is for you…discover the purpose and role of a small home fellowship and how, through it, you can be better utilized for our Lord's glory!
What is a "House Church?"
A House Church is a real, effectual, local, small congregation of Christians worshiping and practicing its faith. It can be in a middle class home in a US suburb, the basement of a church building, in a garage in an undisclosed country where it is illegal to have a church, or in the back of a business in a developing country. It is a house of worship, one that is as old as the Church itself. It is the archetype of the first intimate Christian gatherings and means that Christ used to form His Bride, the Church. It is the simple organization that fulfils His call and purpose for worship, discipleship, care, and fellowship. It is not a building; rather, it is a movement of people in Christ. A house church or a meta church or a home fellowship-whatever name you give it-is God's unfolding plan upon lives collectively as they come together to worship, fellowship, learn, serve, and inspire one another. I first helped plant a house church while in seminary; it was 1987 and a rather oddball thing to do then. After a couple of years, I handed it over to a capable leader and it want strong for many more years. I started another one in 1992, and we had a great four-year run. Then I did it again, as the song goes, oops I did it again, in 2001; we are called Journey and are still going strong. Our small home church is attached to a mega church in the LA area. This is where I tend to strut my so-called pastoral abilities to lead, learn, make mistakes, beta test our resources, and pray a lot. Most importantly, this is where we seek to glorify our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Somehow, the art of church seems to have gotten lost as well as the reading of the Bible, for the most part, as faulty trends and misguided agendas have taken over. Many of us have forgotten what we are to do and why we are to do it. The house church is a means to remind us of God's call and purpose for any church fellowship-no matter how big or small. The word church in the Bible means "those who are called out." Also, members of one body from chapter three of Colossians is about the call to be closer to Christ. As a community, the closer we are to Christ our Lord the closer we can be to one another and to what Christ has called us to do and be. Once we make real peace with God, we will be able to make and maintain peace with others. In practice, this means we as believers are to be together and tighter, and we need each other to carry out our mutual faith. I addition, unity and peace among the fellowship and in the world are essential as displays for Christ, because we are His ambassadors. As exemplars of how God brings peace to all of us, we then are better able to really show others that they can have peace and salvation too. If we fight and are in disunity, or we get distracted from the principle of a church, "how can God be of peace" will be the objection from those who do not know Him (whom we are called to reach) or are new to the faith (Rom. 12:4; 2 Cor. 5:20; Eph. 3:6; 4:24-26; Col. 3:15; 4:7-18).
What is the Difference between a regular Church and a House Church?
The difference is that a house church, sometimes called a "cell church" or a "home fellowship" is a more intimate and smaller gathering, usually six to fifty. A cell church is usually a small group from a church and a home church is an actual full fledge church that meets in a home that may have higher numbers of worshipers. It is a group of committed Christians who come together as a community under a pastor or trained leader to worship Christ and follow His principles while meeting in someone's private home. It is less formal, has less bureaucracy, less institutionalization, but usually still needs to be connected to a lager body for resources, training, and supervision as well as accountability. The house churches I have pastored and seen tend to be more effective in building community, allowing a more casual atmosphere for people to invite friends who may not go to a "regular church." This also helps them be more mobile to better engage the surrounding community in friendly outreach (Acts 2:42; 19:25-41; 20:20; 1 Cor. 14:22-26; Col. 3:16; 4:15; Heb. 10:24-25; James 2:2).
A home fellowship is a church; it is just smaller and usually more agile and responsive. It is like a "light infantry" unit of an army who goes ahead of the regular attack force via either a mechanized division or a full on rank and file army, because they carry less of a load and can move faster. It is a tool of God to use us better in community. It is a platform to proclaim the Good News of Christ, to share the Gospel. This means "God delivers" and salvation is from, and only from, God, Christ as Lord. This refers to the person and Work of Christ, how He delivered us out of sin and into new life. It is by His life and sacrifice that we have the Kingdom and abundance of life here and forevermore. As a house church becomes too big, it can have a "good split" and have two, then four, and so forth. It becomes an example of multiplying networks and energizing and influencing more people for the Lord. The key factor that makes this work is prayer, and then is further fueled by our gratitude for Christ, translating into excitement. Being excited about who you are in Christ is an essential aspect of attracting people and motivating them for and in leadership. New Christians bring in most of the new converts because they are excited and are energized. Even though new Christians may be ignorant on theological and apologetical matters, they are bringing people in versus people who have been Christians for many years but tend to lose their excitement and, thus, may rarely bring people into the church. A house church helps build excitement (Heb. 2:3).
After nearly two thousand years of the Church, we often need a reminder that we are all a part of the body of Christ, in community with one another and in unity with Christ for His work. Our faith needs to be grown and exercised and the smaller church cell or a smaller group in a bigger church becomes an intimate platform of great value to us. Christianity is not to be a spectator sport; it must be engaged with our best means for God's glory for all things in our lives-school, work, family, ministry, and relating to strangers. It must all glorify our Lord! This gives comfort, taking mere encouragement and putting us, as a community, into closer and more effective action. It is not just saying to someone, "do well," but helping him or her to do it. And we can take comfort in that even though we are small, we are never alone, away from God, or away from one another, unless we isolate ourselves, as these early church folks, that Paul writes about in Colossians, were seeking to do (Psalm 2:8; 22:27-31; Isa. 9:5-6; Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:39; Rom. 11:16; 15:9-12; 1 Cor. 1:2; 7:14; 12:13; Col. 3-4; Heb. 4:1-11; 10:19-25; Rev. 7:9).The House Church restores what Communion was meant to be.
We can be better able to partake and celebrate the Lord's Supper and remember what our Lord did on our behalf. The debate that rages amongst most denominations and theologians are whether Christ is actually the elements of bread and wine or His role in it.However, what is usually left out is what it is supposed to be about. The original Communion and what the Church practiced for over three hundred years was fellowship and remembrance of our Lord that took place during a meal. This meal was not a tasteless prefab wafer and a shot glass of juice; it was real food and fellowship together that was practiced correctly as a gathering in private homes. Over time, it evolved into traditions and as a part of the Sunday worship of the local church. The Lord's Supper also pointed toward consummation of the Kingdom of God and a church is the practice of this, we show Him in and by our fellowship and worship (Luke 22:20; Matt. 26:26-28; John 17:21-24; Rom. 5:5; 1 Cor. 10:14-17; 11:17-26; Eph. 2:5-6).
Jesus had two suppers with them; one was a meal and the other was to commence a lasting ordinance, a sacrament to remember and honor Him (not a part of our salvation; rather our response to Christ). We see the bread and the cup as a real intimate encounter with our Lord. In most churches, we tend to forget this; perhaps it has become just a ritual and rhetoric to many, or shortened for logistical reasons, but the real meaning is far more profound. We have a Savior who not only saved us, but demonstrated victory and character. Jesus models committed character, character that shows the works of the Spirit even in the mist of extreme and dire circumstances and His pending, agonizing death. Jesus' character was in contrast to the pious frauds who called themselves "religious leaders," who sought their own will and used their innate wickedness to destroy Him. Jesus submitted to the will of the Father, modeling for us submission, surrender, and poured-out obedience to Him, and this is what we practice, model, and teach as a fully engaged church (Luke 22:17-20).
As Jesus took bread, we are to partake upon Him, as it was the custom of the head of the household to give thanks and a blessing before a meal; we can do so as a communal gathering in His Name. What was said was, "this is the bread of affliction our ancestors ate when they came out of Egypt." The bread now represents Jesus body, given for us all. Jesus represents the affliction, as He took our afflictions and sins, and bore (emptied) them on the cross for our eternal life. As the bread then represented the Jews being saved and brought out of Egypt, it now represents our being saved and brought out of our sins (Luke 22:19; Rom. 8:30; Eph. 1:5; 1 Cor. 1:30; 11:24).
As Jesus took the cup, a leader of a home fellowship takes the center cup and raises it, up to four times (as in four cups full), to pronounce blessings. This represented Jesus' blood, shed as a sacrifice to pay for our sins and judgment so God's wrath would "pass over." It represents His substitution and His sacrifice on the cross. We are gathered for worship and not for power or control; we can have the real substance that the cup represents, the real honor to trust and obey His commission and sacrament (2 Cor. 1:20; 4:13).
A house church can do a better job at communion, whereas a regular church can't because of logistics, time, and tradition. Thus, once a month or as led by the Lord, a home fellowship can share a meal and at the end, as Jesus did, have an informal communion celebration. (A small group or Bible study can do this too!) We can come for a meal that is shared together as Jesus established it on the night before His Crucifixion. After they had their supper and fellowship, Jesus told the Disciples that the cup of wine represented His own blood, shed to establish a new covenant between God and humanity. The bread represents His body broken on our behalf. Thus, when the Lord's Supper is partaken, we meet Christ and are made present with Him (Omnipresence of God) in remembrance of His atoning death and sacrifice on our behalf, and as it looks to the fullness of the Kingdom of God. As Calvin said, "we are given a taste of Heaven"and when we do this as a mealtime in a small fellowship together, we get a better picture and understanding of what a church is supposed to be (Isa. 52:15; 53:12; Matt. 26: 17- 46; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:15-20; John 6:37-39; 10:15-16; 1 Cor. 11:20-25; Eph. 1:13-14; 2:8).
God's Call for the House Church
Any church is about giving Christ the glory. It is not about you or me, the leaders or the place, or the traditions; it is about honoring, worshiping, and learning about our Lord. The Church universal and the church local is, and must be all about Jesus Christ. For we exist in and through Him; by our relationship and our worship, all must point to Him, whatever denomination we are, wherever we meet, whether we are in a magnificent cathedral that is a thousand years old or in a cold damp basement meeting for the first time (Jer. 7:23; 31:33; Psalm 73:24-28; Matt. 18:15-20; John 17:21-23; Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 10:31; 11:25; Gal. 6:1; Col. 1:18; 3:17; Heb. 8:7-13; 10:25)!
Francis Schaeffer stated many times-most notably in his book The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century-"that it is interesting, however, that the church was in the home." meaning that "a real true church" is not about buildings or even programs. It is a gathering with a purpose to know and grow in Christ, to spur on one another in the faith, to practice the "one anothers" in Scripture-that we are equipped and encouraged to grow and live out our faith in our personal lives and collectively in the world. In fact, if you study church history, there were no buildings for the first three hundred plus years. All churches were in homes and even underground to avoid persecution. There they thrived and grew. When the church became an institution, then the real trouble came-not from persecution but rather from pride, power plays, and lost focuses. Then traditions set in and Christ was so clouded by our ritual and the over fixation of customs and religious practices that there was no effectual reason or function for the church except for power and control over people's lives. These are the real enemies of the Church. The church became lost in its own institution when it was once alive in the homes!
Today our churches can easily become lost and misguided by our institutions and traditions as well as our personal agendas, pride, and power plays. When the Church becomes over institutionalized, it becomes a blubbering bureaucracy. This can be good for resources and accountability, but bad for mobilization and response. We must be careful we do not lose what we are supposed to be about and do! The house church is not immune from these ills, but that can be better at controlling the works of the flesh with a better focus on what the church is to be.
The House Church helps us Pay Attention
In Hebrews 10, the author addresses his readers and hearers (including himself), to say that we must pay attention to Christ with faith and hope. He is giving encouragement for an essential aspect of faith; it is trusting in Christ, but not blind faith, because we know in whom we trust. This gives us the assurance of Christ on whom we lean, learn, and model in our homes where people are invited to participate in His worship. We do not need to go to an altar or a priest, since Christ fills that role Himself. Thus, as a home church, we look to Christ as the Priest and we are the leader and equipper to those who come; we always point to Him. Jesus now asks us to come, where before, we had to stay away and give a sacrifice that was very temporary. In addition, if one's heart was not right, the sacrifice was not accepted. Now we can go before Him anytime and anywhere. In context, we are given four conditions: 1. Sincere heart; 2. Undivided allegiance, as in loyalty to Christ and His Church; 3. Full assurance of faith; 4. Hearts sprinkled and bodies washed. The question is why do we not do this, or why do we do it so infrequently? The point to us is: are we filled with gratitude for who He is and what He has done?
This is not a popular notion but it is true: Christianity comes with a catch-an obligation or an entrance fee so to speak. It is so simple, some people reject it and so hard, others can't stand it. Yes, our grace is free without works or effort on our part, but it requires our belief in Christ to receive Him and His work in our lives. That we see our need for Him, then what our Lord did for us, and our responses to Him all comprise the Gospel Message. This is why we come together as a fellowship to worship, whether a big church or a small home church. Being a Christian and being a church are all about Christ. It is all about Who He is and what He has done. It is not about you or me, other than our response in faith and resonating His love by living a life of gratitude for Him, which is our rest of comfort now until the day when we enter His eternal rest. This has been promised to us, spoken by the prophets, written down in the Scriptures, and lived out by our Lord. This rest is not just about eternity; it is trusting in Him for our lives now, so we are fruitful now. We live a life that has no worry or strife as our hope and life are working by and in Him. We can rest in Him now and in eternity! So, when we lead or pastor a church, home or otherwise, let us listen carefully to Christ, hear His voice, and obey His call and precepts!
The House Church Helps us Worship
Worship is a covenant and call from our Lord to come before Him and meet with Him with reverence, gladness, and joy. This is about how we draw near and give God the recognition and admiration that He deserves. Praise is our motivation of an impassioned, changed heart, with an emotional and mindful exaltation of our gratitude for what God has done. It is a call to know Him intimately and express appreciation to Him with honor and thanksgiving as well as passion, sincerity, conviction, and in reverent fear and trembling. Worship is the aptitude, attitude, and practice of expressing the desire to know our Lord and Savior further, and being grateful for who He Is and what He has done for us. Worship and praise are the giving of our best to Him. We do this because we are His; we give Him a heart that is already His. He has given His best to us already. In addition, we are enveloped in His eternal love and care for pure and useful purposes. This has nothing to do with musical prefaces or orders of worship. It is the matter of a changed heart that responds to Christ who is the audience of our worship, as we are the performers (Deut. 6:4-9; Psalm 24:4; 50; 65:13; 79:13; 95:6-7; 100; 150; Matthew 4:10; 2:2,11; 14:33; John 4:23; 9:35-38; Col 2:9; 3:17; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 4).
It is important for us to understand that the structure of the church is not as important as the attitude of our hearts and what we are seeking and responding to be and do! A church is a body of believers and does not need a building, but a building can be put to good use if used wisely. A body of believers does not need a campus, but one can be utilized for functions, programs, and activities. We have to realize that it is not about the church building or the pastors and priests, what we have done before or what we want to do now or in the future. It is about Christ our High Priest who makes us the Church-not the buildings. Our holy places are where Christ resides in our hearts and works in our lives individually and collectively. We need a structure to facilitate this, but it can come in any form. Any structure that is reasonable and biblical can be an instrument of praise and glory for our Lord. On the other hand, it can also be a determent to the Kingdom. It is what we do with it that echoes His character and call. The house church can just be a more flexible and agile organization that helps form better community for allocating resource and passion for the Kingdom.
Do not be stuck on structure or traditions, rather be stuck and trended on Christ!
© 2009, R. J. Krejcir, Ph.D., Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development www.churchleadership.org/